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Monday, February 26, 2007

HOW TO BE A WRITER IN TEN EASY STEPS

First of all, I have a piece of unbearably wonderful news to share. It seems that Devilish, my take on my high school experience (with a few demons added for good measure) has been nominated for the Andre Norton Award. How this piece of extraordinary good fortune came about, I don’t really know—but I am excited all to pieces about it.

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Andre Norton Award is the YA version of the Nebula, the awards given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The six books on the finalist list this year are:

MAGIC OR MADNESSS by Justine Larbalestier
MIDNIGHTERS #2: TOUCHING DARKNESS by Scott Westerfeld
PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld
DEVILISH by Maureen Johnson
THE KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner
LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer


So it’s kind of hard to root for myself here. Personally, I’d have to vote for Scott or Justine. I would probably have to flip a coin over it. I mean . . . Magic or Madness and Peeps! And I’ve heard great things about The King of Attolia and Life As We Knew It. What a list!

Thank you, Norton committee for including me with such excellent company.

Now, let’s get to business. I noticed the following comment on my last post.

anonymous said...
How do you BECOME a writer anyway? You've already talked about what they do.


Fair enough, anonymous. Enough jibberjabber about the eating habits of J. Green, the cakemaking of E. Lockhart, and the bone-breaking of Cecil Castellucci. (But don’t think this will be the last time I will put you through this.) I like readers who say what they want.

Let’s take a second to clarify the question—I think you’re asking how you become a professional writer, or someone who writes for a living. The broader question of how one becomes a writer is not one I can answer.

The interweb abounds with information about this subject, some of it solid and good, and some of it terrible. I’ve already told you how to write a book and a little about the publishing process. Let’s look at the general state of being a writer—habits, behaviors, tricks and tips.

I have broken this subject down into ten elements that I feel are critical for any professional writer. You can go about these in any order you like.

1. HAVE YOUR PICTURE TAKEN IN FRONT OF SOME BOOKS.



This is an absolutely essential first step. People forget things easily in our information-rich world. You don’t want people asking, “What’s this person about? Is she an oral surgeon? Is she a lion tamer?” The books will tell them that you are a Serious Writer.

2. OBSESSIVELY CHECK YOUR AMAZON RANK.




This is the true mark of a writer. Everyone does it. Those who say that they do not are lying.

3. MAKE FRIENDS WITH SOME MEDICAL PROFESIONALS.




Because you won’t have health insurance. My mom’s a nurse and can write prescriptions. This helps. You should make similar connections.

4. BE WEIRD.



If you’re a writer, everyone at the publishing company (and pretty much the world at large) already assumes that you’re two sandwiches short of a picnic. You might as well enjoy it.

5. BE AS INTENSE AND POMPOUS AS POSSIBLE.




Look, no one is going to take you seriously unless you show them that you are a force to be reckoned with. You are a Writer, dammit! People owe you respect! If anyone says anything bad about you or your book, go after them and tell them that they are wrong! Take everything personally! Go to their houses, steal their hamsters, leave threatening greeting cards on their doorsteps. Wax insane on your blog about your enemies, both real and imaginary.

Oh wait. No. People hate that. Just go back to point number four.

6. GET SOME HOBBIES.



Writing is solitary. It’s good to have a few outside interests that get you away from your desk. That means that internet surfing, blogging, “researching,” and Googling do not count. Step away from the keyboard.

7. BROOD A LOT ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU SUCK.



Wait . . . you’re saying YOU wrote the worst book/story/play/paper in the world? Because I thought I had. And you, guy over there. You’re saying YOU wrote the worst one? We can’t all be right.

Get in line, Charlie! Every writer claims this, usually at some bleak midpoint. This is pretty much a requirement. Dwelling on it is a great way to use time that you would otherwise fill with tedious writing.

8. MAKE SOME WRITER FRIENDS.



Writers make excellent friends. They will listen to your long, sad stories about how you suck and have no health insurance—and then match them with their own stories about how they suck and have no health insurance. A conversation like this can go on for hours! Blog about the time you spend with them, until someone sends you a comment and tells you to . . . wait. Nevermind. Just get some writer friends.

9. ALWAYS LOOK LIKE YOU ARE DEEP IN THOUGHT.



Writers are always supposed to be thinking, even when their minds are empty except for the sound of softly chirping birds. Practice your thinking face in your spare time. It helps to touch your chin lightly.

10. KEEP GETTING BACK UP.



You’re going to fall and fail. Keep getting back up. No, I don’t want to hear any excuses as to why you can’t. Just keep getting back up. Also, make sure you make those friends in the medical profession. They can provide useful medications when the getting up is hard.

There you go! I hope this helps. I invite other writers to add to this list, in case I have missed something.

Labels: ,

48 Comments:

Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

Congratulations!!!!

Those ten steps are so very very true. I can't think of anything you've missed.

But, I thought I was Cary Grant? Why are you mixing me up with you (Jimmy Stewart)?

And who is each of the Marx Brothers?

You have confused me! Now I will never be able to write again.

2:08 AM  
Blogger Maryrose Wood said...

MJ, Justine, Scott -- I am rooting fervently and exclusively for each of you!

I have another tip for would-be writers:

SAY 'THANK YOU!' RIGHT AWAY WHEN PEOPLE OFFER HELPFUL COMMENTS ABOUT YOUR WORK

Real life exchange between me and my son, yesterday:

My kid (reading my work-in-progress off the computer screen): Why is that word red? You must have spelled it wrong.

Me: No, it's a joke.

My kid: What is?

Me: The word. I made it up, so the computer thinks it's misspelled, but it's a pun. Wordplay. A joke.

My kid: Is it funny?

Me: Uh, yeah. Yes. It's funny.

My kid: How do you know?

Me: I just think that other people will find it funny.

My kid: But how do you know?

Me: I just, I don't know. Personally I think it's funny. Based on my experience, I believe that others will find it funny also.

My kid: But how do you KNOW?

Me: Thank you! That's enough.

My kid: BUT HOW DO YOU -

Me: Homework time!

3:18 AM  
Anonymous carrie jones said...

Holy Canoli, you are like a writer prophet of truth.

Wow.

I have yet to try #5 (being pompous) because I am really, really stuck on #7.

I hope there is no writing rule that I must leave #7.

Congratulations on your nomination.
That's fantastic news. And you totally deserve it and now you can be #5 for a long, long time.

4:06 AM  
Anonymous cameron said...

Blog about your writers block; how you can’t put pen to page (or finger to keyboard).

Subtly infer that people who claim never to get writers block are soulless commercial hacks. Chuck in something about muses; their fickle nature, the glory of their gossamer threads of inspiration; crap like that.

Empathise with ‘other’ great writers who were also tormented by the true writer’s nemesis.

Bang on for about 2,000 words.

Post the message, then realise with joy that you do know an alternate phrase for “pulsing love muscle”.

4:43 AM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

Wow, I wouldn't know who to choose from that list of nominees. The last two I haven't read, but the others are spectacular! :) I think I've got the whole bit of never thinking I'm any good as a writer down pat. Perhaps I'm too good at it. I really enjoyed reading this list...you're a genius. As long as you, Scott, Justine, John, and Holly are still in the writing world, I think my chances of publication dwindle that much more. ;)

6:51 AM  
Blogger Nik's Blog said...

Congrats on the nomination and thank you for the laughs. Reading that certainly kept me from the tedious job of writing! Very funny.

Nik.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Sally Q said...

This is hilarious! Thanks for the tips. I hadn't thought to have my picture taken with books. And thank you for using my idol, James Stewart to illustrate some of the points. He's made it all much clearer for me.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Molly said...

i absolutely adore jimmy stewart, not to mention you, so reading this blog is quite an enjoyable experience.

and thanks as ever for the invaluable insider tips....

10:28 PM  
Blogger Little Willow said...

Congratulations!

I love this list, especially because it features Cary Grant.

Oh, here are two more pictures for:

3. MAKE FRIENDS WITH SOME MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS.

Dun dun dun!

Sold out!

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey IT's me Anonymous! THank you for letting me know how to be a writer! NOw I think I will go sttar stealing hamsters!




P.S. I'm a pirate and my name is Erendira

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Colleen Cook said...

Congratulations!! You're in mightly fine company.

As for your list, I've got #s 4 and 7 mastered. Next up: #9

Thanks for the laughs. Much needed for someone who isn't sure #10 will work this time around

8:30 AM  
Blogger Phillipa said...

Brilliant stuff. I just had my first book published and I recognise all of these signs. You've had me laughing out loud (and you get free health care in the UK, so that's one consolation!). I never look at Amazon, or play.com, or on-line bookstore rankings....

6:09 PM  
Blogger Lisa Asanuma said...

Haha. Thanks for the list! I've been looking forward to buying your books. When I get money, that is. When that will be is questionable.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous krista k said...

Ok so i know this is pretty much off of the subject of your ten steps, but i just finished reading 13 Little Blue Envelopes and i pretty much thought it was the best book i have ever read. but i have to ask if there is going to be a sequel to that. i liked the romantic fact of keith and ginny but i was sad to see it end so abruptly. well i thought i would just give my thoughts. thanks for listening.

6:37 PM  
Blogger hesitant scribe said...

A most enjoyable list - thank you so much... you've made my day!

9:19 PM  
Blogger hesitant scribe said...

A most enjoyable list - thank you so much... you've made my day!

9:20 PM  
Blogger Courtney said...

hilarious to the tenth degree, thanks for the laughs.

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

If I ever decide to become an author, these tips will be infinitely useful! Although, that's not why I was leaving a comment. I just wanted to say that I'm exuberant because I'm going to receive an ARC of Girl at Sea from the HarperTeen First Look program. YAY!

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi me again I just love tip #7 thanks for the laughs!!!


Erendira

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I've got both #4 and #7 down to a fine art. And since I live in the UK and we get free healthcare, that means I only have seven of the tips left to master. I think 'Get some writer friends' needs to be next though, because my current motivational slump is bordering on crippling... I guess I'll just have to keep coming back to your blog whenever I need a happy-boost. You always make me chuckle. Thanks for that :)

Mwa!

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gah!
i think i should point out that an extremely important part of writing is procrastination. It's all the more literary if one waits until the very last moment to write it.
hee hee.

-L

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

erendira, dats enuff of ur comments go 2 bed lol
i think the tips were gr8 cus i miyt be a rita
how old r u erendira??

~spy4lyf~ u.k*

*see rite wher ur frm ppl!!

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its me agen
i actually wanna be a Vet but i miyt rite on da side my teacher says i shud cus my stories r so gud
no1 in my stupid class has read harry potter or da alex rider bks or even meg cabots or sophie kinsella or wotevas bks..
HOW SAD
o i also go 2 a girls school in leicestershire wher ther r NO cute boys..how am i suposed 2 liv??

~spy4lyf~

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Excellent tips! And I agree with anonymous, procrastination is a true key to being a great writer. Not only do I constantly procrastinate when it comes to my books, I do it with everything else as well!! Homework, housework, responding to emails and letters, it is all put off! When it comes to my books however, I do not put it off because I have something better to do. I put it off until I can decide specifically want I want to happen!!!! Right now, I am stuck on one part of one book because I don't exactly WANT to go forward, nor can I figure out how to phrase it... Life as a writer can be so hectic... Even if most think not!!

Amanda

P.S. Congrats on the nomination! Good luck (you have some excellent competition!)!!

7:05 AM  
Blogger Ronni said...

THAT'S why I haven't been published yet! I need to set up my camera and tripod right away and get that picture of me in front of books done and STAT!

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point #5 is okay as far as it goes, but don't you feel that you really need special instructions to cover dealing with negative reviews on Amazon?

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Psychfun said...

That was just too funny. John was right. I love Jimmy & Cary! Actually, then there must be tons of writers! HA!

4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forget to mention, on number two, that once one finds a bad review on Amazon, one must immediately fill in fifteen good reviews with different usernames, emphasizing on how the writer is also an amazing humanitarian and as gorgeous-slash-handsome as an underwear model.
Otherwise, my eyes have opened. I see, now, that all I need to do is get out that camera of mine and snap a couple book pictures to have complete control of my writerness. AMAZING!

11:21 PM  
Blogger Michele said...

Hi !

I read Devilish for the Cybils and enjoyed it, so when I saw Camille at BookMoot raving about your Blog I had to come over. This is a brilliant list - must get my photo taken of me in front of some books, though !

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Rachael said...

haha, I'm definitely sharing these with my writing class. And definitely going to go take that picture- maybe I can get my story published. . . if I ever can finish it.

Just to add, especially for student writers, or writers with another job:
Blame everything on writing. You didn't finish your paper because you had a brilliant story idea. You didn't finish the proposal because you just had to write that poem. You haven't slept in the past four days because you came up with a fantastic idea for your novel, wrote it all, then realized it didn't work, so you had to change it all to make it a separate story then go back and revise the original to work. . . .

7:17 AM  
Blogger Tina Chaulk said...

Great list. So much truth in it. And congratulations on the nomination.

4:58 PM  
Blogger John Wright said...

It is funny because it is so, so true.

Unfortunately, I have only mastered step five as yet.

Warmest congratulations on your nomination. From now on, you are allowed to sign every letter, email, bookjacket and traffic ticket with the words: "World-Famous Author Maureen Johnson Nominated For A Prestigious Award."

That is what I did when I was nominated for the "Plumbie" which is awarded annually for the best science-fiction literature that supports, encourages or honors the field of plumbing. It's a famous award. Really. I was nominated for my novel "The One-and-One-Quarter-Inch S-Trap Sink Drain Blockage of Mars".

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was hilarious!

11:20 PM  
Blogger Heather♥ said...

I have to say, I dont have time to read this post right now, but I will, I Promise :D.

What I wanted to say, was that me and my best friend have started a book-reviewing blogspot. We both read your book, 'The Bermudez Triangle,' and loved it. She wrote a review for it @
plentyofpaper-reviews.blogspot.com

Please check it out and comment and such if you have time. We would be really, extremely happy if you could mention the site in a post or some other place for us. We need readers and we want to have people to recommend our favorite books to and be able to warn readers against really bad ones(trust me, yours was good).

Please and Thank You always,
♥Heather

2:45 AM  
Blogger Oloryn said...

Now I understand Scientology. Ol' Elron missed the last paragraph of step 5.

2:28 AM  
Blogger foolery said...

Two years late to say congratulations for your nomination, but congratulations just the same.

I have a lot to do to cover this list, but I want to ask you, since you are the published writer and I am merely a silly blogger:

Where do published writers stand on the issue of LISTS?

; )

Stumbling this and passing it on. You made my day -- thanks!

-- Laurie LaGrone @ Foolery

p.s. I found you by Googling Tony Orlando & Dawn. This may or may not be significant to your career.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Auds at Barking Mad said...

I happened to pop in here via a tweet of Foolery's. I see she's right above me up there in comment land.

The awesomeness of this post is defined by how amusingly true the 10 steps are.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Auds at Barking Mad said...

D'oh! This post is two years old. It's awesome, just the same, and still very accurate.

Now to catch up on the last two years!

11:52 PM  
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